Cover (Image: ali abiyar/Unsplash)

Does blue light cause you to age—or does it help to keep acne at bay? We ask skincare experts 111Skin founder Dr Yannis Alexandrides, IDS Clinic’s Dr Ian Tan and Net-a-porter global beauty director Newby Hands to shed light on it

We are constantly reminded to protect our skin from UV rays emitted by the sun, but in recent years another culprit of ageing has come into prominence—blue light. Emitted from the sun and also from our mobile devices, we are virtually exposed to blue light all the time, which not only disrupts sleep and throws our natural circadian rhythms off-balance, but can also cause premature ageing. At the same time, you may have heard of LED light therapy, when blue light is used to treat acne. So what exactly is blue light and should we be embracing it or protecting our skin against it? We ask 111Skin founder Dr Yannis Alexandrides, IDS Clinic’s Dr Ian Tan and Net-a-porter global beauty director Newby Hands.

What is blue light and how is it different from UV rays?

“Blue light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. It is also known as High Energy Visible Light (HEVL), because it is the portion of the visible light spectrum with the shortest wavelengths and highest energy,” explains Dr Ian Tan, a medical doctor at IDS Clinic.

“Their wavelengths range from approximately 400-500nm, very close in wavelength to ultraviolet (UV) light. Sunlight consists of ultraviolet (UV) (290-400 nm), visible (400-700 nm), and infrared (>700 nm). UV radiation comprises approximately five to seven per cent of solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth, while visible light (400–800 nm) amounts to approximately 50 per cent.”

But while the sun is the main source of blue light, it is in fact, almost ubiquitous. Any form of light-emitting devices could expose us to blue light, including our phones, televisions, computers, and even our fluorescent or LED lighting.

How does blue light affect our skin?

“Blue light induces generation of reactive oxygen species which damages collagen and causes wrinkling, pigment changes and laxity. Even exposure time as short as an hour can cause oxidative stress in skin cells, that leads to ageing,” says Dr Yannis Alexandrides, founder of 111Skin.

“Other studies show that humans are exposed to enough blue light in the course of a normal day to decrease carotenoids (an antioxidant) in the skin, which increases free radicals.”

How is it different from the blue light used in LED light therapy?

“LED (light-emitting diode) therapy is a skincare treatment that uses varying wavelengths of visible light which has specific skin benefits. Blue light used in LED therapy has clarifying properties, reducing acne-causing bacteria and inflammation,” says Dr Alexandrides.

“As a source of energy, the skin is attracted to the light which then fuels the repair and rejuvenation of the cells. This means the damaged cells are encouraged to renew as well as killing bacteria that can lead to acne. The energy created by the LED stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, which encourages circulation and pushes tissue repair.”

What sets the benefits of blue LED light therapy apart from the dreaded effects of blue light is its wavelength and the duration of exposure, according to Dr Tan.

“The difference is controlled versus uncontrolled light exposure. Blue light used as LED therapy has a specific wavelength of about 415-420nm, which is clinically proven to be effective in decreasing inflammation and bacteria. However, the blue light that we are exposed to in the environment has a broader spectrum,” he clarifies.

“The full range, rather than the controlled, narrow wavelength, of high-energy visible light is the cause of accelerated photo-ageing and skin concerns related to blue light. Blue light used in LED light therapy is also only just a fraction of that emitted by the sun, and treatment duration is relatively insignificant compared to the amount of time people spend using electronic devices and the proximity of these screens to the user's face.”

Are sunscreens enough to protect our skin from blue light?

Since blue light is very close in wavelength to UV rays, you would probably wonder if sunscreens with UV protection would suffice for blue light protection. The answer is yes and no—depending on the formula of your sunscreen.

“Sunscreen is a necessity of modern-day life and should be used every day as the last step of your skincare routine to protect your skin against daily aggressors. When referencing blue light protection and SPF, you should use sunscreens specifically formulated to block blue light,” Dr Alexandrides explains.

“Not all will—so make sure you read the label ahead of purchasing. Pick sunscreens that have a broad spectrum to protect your skin. Physical blockers with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide help reflect light rays to offer broad protection against UV and high-energy visible light.”

What ingredients should we look for in blue-light protection skincare?

“Antioxidants, in general, are great for blue light protection—they can all help our skin fight against day to day pollution, blue light, UV rays and other stressors,” says Newby Hands, global beauty director at Net-a-porter.

“There is no one ingredient that can fight off all free radicals, so it is important that your skincare products cover a variety of antioxidants that complement each other help boost your skin cells to regenerate and shield from pollutants. A good cocktail of potent anti-oxidants and sunscreen can help protect and prevent our skin from premature ageing. Niacinamides are great—they encourage our skin cells to regenerate and produce collagen, and help to reverse damages caused by free radicals and hyperpigmentation. Vitamin A, C and E are also popular choices when fighting against blue light.”

Tatler Asia
Above (Image: Net-a-porter)

111Skin NAC Y² Pollution Defence Booster
111Skin’s NAC Y² formula contains a potent trio of peptides and antioxidants to target signs of ageing—N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an amino acid; Ascorbyl Phosphate, a derivative of vitamin C ; and Escin, a group of antioxidants.

On top of that, the NAC Y² Pollution Defence Booster is blended with ashwagandha and moringa peptides to shield the skin from visible light as well as particulate pollution. The lightweight, gel serum, can be mixed into your moisturiser.

IDS Skincare DermaShield Serum
Described as a “screen protector” in a bottle, IDS Skincare’s DermaShield Serum acts as an invisible shield against blue light, infrared light, as well as environmental aggressors that can accelerate skin ageing.

Active ingredients include marigold extract, buddleja officinalis flower extract and microalgae extract, which help to protect the skin against UV and blue light; alteromonas ferment extract to reinforce the skin’s protective barrier against pollutants; and niacinamide, an antioxidant that works with vitamin B6 and E to prevent skin damage caused by HEV light.

Tatler Asia
Tatler Asia
Above (Image: Net-a-porter)

Chantecaille Blue Light Protection Hyaluronic Serum
Formulated with fermented extract and nasturtium flower extract, this serum activates your skin’s own photo sensors to protect it against the ageing effects of blue light overexposure.

Hyaluronic acid and other moisturising ingredients like tamarind and alga extract also make it an effective hydrating serum. The serum applies with a watery gel texture that absorbs quickly into the skin, plumping it with moisture.

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream Light
Charlotte Tilbury’s award-winning Magic Cream now comes lighter and with SPF 20, PA++—perfect for your morning skincare routine.  Like the Magic Cream, Magic Cream Light offers ample hydration, priming the skin for makeup with a satin-smooth finish.

The Light version also defends against pollution, UVA/UVB and blue light, with an enhanced formula boasting Replexium, a patented peptide duo that targets wrinkles and lines; Citystem, an urban pollution defence matrix that soothes the skin and fights environmental aggressors; and vitamin E.

Tatler Asia
Tatler Asia

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Eye Supercharged Complex
The skin around our eyes is amongst the most delicate on our body—which makes it most vulnerable to the effects of ageing caused by blue light.

Estée Lauder's gel-creme not only prevents free radical damage with its multi-action anti-pollution defence, but helps promote the skin’s natural repair process with its ChronoluxCB complex. The hydrating formula absorbs quickly without greasiness and is effective in treating puffiness.

What other steps can we take to protect our skin from blue light?

According to Dr Tan, there is a significant cumulative incidental exposure to blue light as we go about our day, whether it is a short walk to the car or a morning run in the park.

“Some steps we can take include seeking shade when outdoors, wearing photo-protective clothing including hats and sunglasses, and using a broad-spectrum tinted sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater to protect our skin against UV radiation and visible light,” he suggests.

“Sunlight and electronic devices reach skin both indoors and out, so it's important to protect your skin even if you're indoors most of the day. Make it a point to habitually apply sunscreen along with your morning skincare routine regardless of your plans for the day. In fact, we should all be wearing sunscreen and a ‘screen-screen’. Limiting screen time and installing blue-light reducing software or blue light screen protectors for your digital devices can help too. Beyond following these precautions, we can also minimise blue light damage by neutralising its effects with skincare.”